New Brunswick

Former curator gives explanation for relocated headstones

A retired curator has come forward to explain how five headstones went missing from a Maugerville cemetery and wound up at Kings Landing Historical Settlement.

Darrel Butler was the man who accepted headstones for Kings Landing back in the 1990s

Darrel Butler was the curator who accepted the headstones back in the 1990's. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

A retired curator has come forward to explain how five headstones went missing from a Maugerville cemetery and wound up at Kings Landing Historical Settlement. 

Darrel Butler, the former chief curator of Kings Landing, said if he hadn't taken them, the stones would have met a very different fate. 

"If we hadn't, we wouldn't be talking today because there wouldn't have been any tombstones saved," said Butler. 

The controversy surrounding the stones comes after a family member,  looking for his ancestors headstones, found them in an unlikely place: More than 40 kilometres away at Kings Landing.   

Darrel Butler said he got a call in the 1990s from someone in Maugerville. The owner of the Miles family farm had recently passed away and his surviving son, who had flown in from BC, invited him to scout out the farm for notable items from New Brunswick's farming past. 

"In that period of time, it was important for us, for Kings Landing to get artifacts, so that we could build a collection that historians in the future would be able to use for study and research," said Butler. 

Five headstones that were originally marking graves in Maugerville are now on display at Kings Landing Historical Settlement. (Submitted by Lloyd Dutcher)

Farm equipment made in the early 1800's in Saint John was the obvious choice for the collection. But Mr. Miles directed Butlers attention to the five gravestones. 

"He explained that his brother, who he said was a priest, about 20 years before this had gone to the old family cemetery," said Butler. "He found the family cemetery all grown over and was really worried about preserving any sense of identity." 

So, the priest moved the stones to a barn where they sat for decades until the surviving son convinced Butler to take them. 

"He said nobody's interested in them in my family, I've got to go back to British Columbia," recalled Butler. "He said the best I can do is use them as lawn ornaments on my front yard... ...which my wife won't let me do." 

Butler said the plan was to break them up and throw them away. 

So Butler said the Kings Landing collections committee mulled over the idea of saving the tombstones. He says relocating them wasn't controversial at the time, but it was still a sensitive topic.

After several discussions, Kings Landing accepted the tombstones in part to save them from being destroyed, but also because it was clear they had been crafted in New Brunswick and had marked the tomb of Loyalists. The fact that no one could relocate the original cemetery also factored into the decision. 

The stones were then placed on consecrated ground next to the Anglican church at Kings Landing.

Staff at Kings Landing Historical Settlement are reviewing their acquisition of five headstones they currently have on display. (Submitted by Lloyd Dutcher)
 

"In our perspective, we saved Loyalist artifacts," said Butler. "And they were important." 

"If we didn't preserve them, they'd be gone," said Butler. "So that's why we did it."

Butler said now that there's another branch of family descendants willing to take care and maintain the stones, they should be returned to mark their original grave sites.

According to Kings Landing chief executive officer Mary Baruth, staff are still looking into the acquisition of the tombstones. They plan on contacting the family who want to have them back.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shane Fowler

Reporter

Shane Fowler has been a CBC journalist based in Fredericton since 2013.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now